Before Jan. 21, Temple had never played a team as highly ranked as the University of Virginia during Uladzimir Dorash’s career.
The junior was looking forward to facing the Cavaliers, who had the No. 12 spot in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll at the time of the match. Instead, he missed the match with a shoulder injury he sustained in Temple’s win against Morgan State University on Jan. 19, and Temple lost, 4-3.
“It’s always a great match, regardless of the result, to play against a team of this level,” said Dorash, who had a 15-12 singles record and won 18 doubles matches during the 2016-17 season. “Since there was a deciding match, we probably would’ve won if I was healthy.”
“This fall, I think he played better than any of our guys,” coach Steve Mauro said. “It would’ve been great to have him, but regardless, the guys still played well and fought hard.”
Despite its loss, Temple (3-2) is optimistic after its play against Virginia, which has won four of the past five Division I titles. The Owls have won three of five matches to start the season with an average 4.6-point combined margin of victory. After missing two matches, Dorash returned to the lineup and won both of his matches in Temple’s victory against Villanova on Friday.
“We can be a top team in our conference,” Mauro said. “Our conference is extremely strong. It’s one of the better conferences in the country, and it just gets better and better. I feel that we did a great job recruiting. There’s a good atmosphere in practice, and guys want to get better and be a top team in the country.”
The American Athletic Conference had five teams — Memphis, South Florida, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Tulane — represented in last year’s NCAA tournament. This season, Tulane is No. 20 in the ITA poll.
The five schools that represented The American in the NCAA tournament were the top five seeds in the conference tournament in April.
No. 7 Temple lost to No. 2 Tulane in the first round. The Green Wave won every singles match to give Temple its third first-round exit in the past four seasons.
The Owls added four players for the 2017-18 season. Three of them won doubles matches against Virginia. Sophomore Juan Araoz, a transfer student from Hampton University, and freshman Mark Wallner won in the third flight.
Araoz and Wallner have a 4-1 record as doubles partners this season. Temple has won the doubles point in every match but one early in the season.
Junior Alberto Caceres Casas, who is in his first season as Division I player after spending the past two seasons at Division II Armstrong State University, won his doubles match against Virginia in the top flight. He and his doubles partner, senior Thomas Sevel, have a 4-1 record this season.
Individually, Caceres Casas has a 3-2 singles record. One of his losses came to Virginia junior Aswin Lizen, the No. 40 Division I singles player as ranked by the ITA.
Sevel has a 4-1 record in the top flight in singles. He lost to Penn State junior Constant De La Bassetiere, the No. 67 singles player, Saturday.
Sevel thinks Temple has a chance to earn a national ranking.
“As a senior, my goal is to go the NCAA tournament for the first time in Temple history, and I’m pretty sure we have a good chance,” Sevel said. “We need to be ranked because we have [a] very good conference.”
Overall, Mauro believes the Owls’ performance against Virginia is a step in the right direction for the program. Temple has won two of its three matches since its loss to the Cavaliers.
Two matches remain before Temple’s American Athletic Conference opener against East Carolina (4-1) on Feb. 16.
“We’re a team to be reckoned with,” Mauro said. “We still need to work hard and it’s still a process, but everyone believes in the process.”